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Searching for the missing link...

20 July 2011

Welcome to the July issue of HazardEx. In this issue of the magazine we provide features on oil & gas and fire safety. In a thought-provoking article by John Astad on combustible dust and flash fires, analysis centres around the inherent variations between safety and legislation around the globe.

As John explains, throughout the global manufacturing sector, the loss of life due to combustible dust incidents continues to haunt stakeholders. Headlines reappear with statistics and graphic accounts such as the Foxconn dust explosion in Chengdu, China. Then in another time zone, a series of combustible dust flash fires at the Gallatin, Tennessee Hoeganaes plant in the US. It is important to note that fatalities, injuries, and property damage are sustained from both combustible dust fires and explosions…not just dust explosions. So now a search for the missing link…

Another interesting article in our fire safety feature is provided on the risks associated with storing, using and working near hydrogen in and around hazardous areas - in terms of flame detection and associated safety aspects. Our oil and gas story focuses around safety when designing a thermowell for an oil or gas pipeline. The mechanical strength of the thermowell must be evaluated to ensure that it passes the ASME PTC 19.3 standard. The recent major overhaul of the standard may encourage buyers to now seek out alternative thermowell designs, says the author. 

In other news, it has been claimed that Japan was unprepared for a nuclear accident on the scale of the one at the Fukushima plant, the government said in a report to be submitted to the IAEA. The report says poor oversight may also have contributed to the crisis. The authorities have pledged to make the country's nuclear regulator (Nisa) independent of the industry ministry, which also promotes nuclear power.

It comes after Nisa doubled its initial estimate of leaked radiation in the first week after the disaster. The nuclear safety agency now says 770,000 terabecquerels escaped into the atmosphere following the 11 March disaster - more than double its earlier estimate of 370,000 terabecquerels. Although the amount is just 15% of the total released at Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986 - the world's worst nuclear disaster - it suggests the contamination of the area around the plant is worse than first thought. More than 80,000 local residents living within a 20km (12 mile) radius of the plant have been evacuated from their homes. A voluntary evacuation policy is operating in the area 20-30km from the plant.

Nearly three months into the crisis, the Fukushima Daiichi plant is still leaking radioactive material. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says more evacuations are being considered. Monitoring shows the lie of the land and wind patterns may be causing a build-up of radiation in other areas. An investigation by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, has already pointed out a key failure - admitted by Japan - to plan for the risk of waves crashing over the sea wall and knocking out the plant's back-up generators. Even though a major faultline lies just offshore, the sea wall at Fukushima was less than 6m (20ft) high. The height of the tsunami wave was about 14m. In its draft report, the IAEA said continued monitoring of the health and safety of the nuclear workers and the general public was necessary. The report also emphasised the importance of independent regulators in the nuclear industry.
Germany and G20 convention review

G20 energy ministers are set to meet in Paris to discuss nuclear safety in the wake of Japan's Fukushima disaster. The accident caused by March's earthquake and tsunami has led to calls for tougher global safety measures. Some governments are now reconsidering their nuclear energy strategy. Germany has became the first major industrialised power to abandon nuclear energy, re-focusing industry on green technologies and a new generation of cleaner gas and coal powered plants.

France leads the world in nuclear energy: 80% of the country's electricity comes from 58 nuclear reactors. Exporting that nuclear expertise is a major part of the French economy. At the recent G8 summit in Deauville, President Nicolas Sarkozy, who also holds the presidency of the G20, met Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to begin work on drafting a new set of global nuclear security standards by the end of this year. Mr Sarkozy said from now on - safety, not cost, should drive the standard of future projects and technology. The French leader has not yet explained how regulation could be improved.
But other officials, including the EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, have called for a review of the International Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear safety convention - which governs international standards. The IAEA will meet to discuss that issue later this month.

I hope you enjoy the issue.

John Gale


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